Being a missionary is a never-ending process of learning and growing, especially in regard to culture. The picture above is from a cross-denominational prayer meeting that we have every month with the pastors from Lviv, Ukraine. It is so cool to be with these brothers in Christ! When pastors from Baptist, Charismatic, Pentecostal, Seventh-Day-Adventist, Salvation-Army, non-denominational, and Reformed churches can get together to pray for one another about real, pressing needs, to share just “what God showed me this morning in my devotions”… It’s a miracle, honestly. God has answered prayers and done things through these men that wouldn’t be possible without this meeting.
I have a very unique place in this meeting. I’m an American that assists one of the local pastors. Normally, it’s the other way around. In general, when an American missionary comes to Ukraine, he starts a church or heads a ministry, and the Ukrainians “learn from him”. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I think I get more credit with these brothers here, because I am here to learn from them. I’m the novice, and they are the teachers.
This is a picture of me (on the left), and my pastor, Ruslan (on the right), by a rock at the top of a hill on a hike we took with the youth group. The relationship I have with Ruslan is a lot like one would have with an older brother. He’s like a father for my wife, Katya; he led her to Christ at a camp many years ago and has known her since then.
One of the cool things about our relationship is that we can both speak into each other’s lives. We have that permission and trust. Learning from him, learning from Katya, learning from my in-laws, learning from the other members of the leadership team – all of this is teaching me how to be a missionary specifically in Lviv.
…and I mean specifically! When I go to Kyiv or other cities here, I sometimes feel like I’m in another country. Lviv is one of the few cities that speaks primarily Ukrainian. This is in contrast to Kyiv or other cities, where most people speak Russian. I actually sometimes get culture shock going to those places! I’ve talked to friends, Ukrainians, from Lviv, and they experience the same thing!
This constant learning of culture and finding the best ways to express the Gospel to that culture is called “contextualization”… More about that later.
This is most of our team. From left to right: Tomasz, a Czech missionary; Olya in the baby blue jacket, the church administrator; Bara, another missionary from the Czech Republic; Katya, my wife, is to my right; and finally Paul, another brother in the church, is on the far right.
I love these guys. We’re from many different backgrounds and often have huge differences in opinion, but that helps us to serve many different kinds of people.
Tomasz and Bara, for example, work with a student-missions organization called Josiah Venture. They are especially good at working with youth, teaching language courses, and starting relationships that eventually turn into opportunities to share the Gospel.
Olya is studying at Coram Deo, the biblical counseling organization where my wife studied. She’s great at working with young girls and helps me and Ruslan keep our heads screwed on straight with the church’s documents, finances, and other administrative duties.
Katya’s also great at working with young women and leading small groups. Olya and Paul were actually in her small group years ago when she taught “Series 2:7”, a Ukrainian-made new believers course that sets out the foundational doctrines of our faith.
Paul has a heart for underprivileged families and has been serving them at our church for a couple of years. His wife leads the children’s ministry, and she also studied at Coram Deo.
All that to say, I’m a blessed missionary. The fact that these people follow me blows me away sometimes, because I have so much to learn from them.
Please pray for our team! We’re growing. We’re learning together. We have growing pains, but that’s part of the progress we are making. I’m proud of these guys.
There’s a book that I recommend about this topic, cultural learning and preaching the Gospel. It’s called “Center Church” by Timothy Keller. It isn’t solely about contextualization, but that’s a big part of the book – finding what works for the particular city and culture that you are working in.
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If you have suggestions for other books to go through about contextualization for missionaries and church leaders, please comment below.